On Thanksgiving, our military services always try to bring special holiday meals to the troops, no matter how tough conditions are. Legends of frozen gravy at Bastogne and monsoon-soaked mashed potatoes in Vietnam are augmented these days by tales of desert sand blown into the stuffing. Any way they get their holiday chow the troops appreciate it – though they delight in complaining loud and long about quality, quantity, and delivery of the food. This has been the prerogative of the Infantry since the days when Caesar’s legions initiated the long-running tradition of French battlefield defeats. Among leaders it was an article of faith that the troops weren’t happy if they weren’t bitching about something. Good natured complaining is part of soldiering as much as a rifle, bayonet and entrenching tool.
But this Thanksgiving our troops have some legitimate complaints. Not about the usual stuff: late mail, MRE’s, heat, cold, irate NCOs and green officers, etc. This time their disappointment is because of the disparaging manner that American media has covered the War in Iraq and the way some politicians have tried to exploit this reporting. It reached a low point in the recent presidential campaign. We saw promulgation of intentionally deceiving rumors of a resurrected draft, exaggerated hysteria about Abu Ghraib, and cynical concern about troop strength and losses. Their attitude toward the troops was summarized by one crass statement from Senator Kerry when he described Iraq as "the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time." Such talk conveyed a harsh message to the troops: your efforts and sacrifices are an exercise in futility.
Distortion by the mainstream media is out of control, including the notoriously anti-American outlets such as the BBC and Arab outlets like al-Jazzera. Soldiers returning home are aghast at the one-sided, negative nature of reporting on Iraq. The soldiers see Iraq as a place where 14 out of 18 provinces could hold elections tomorrow; where the standard of living is immeasurably improved - politically, economically and materially - since Saddam’s removal. Instead, stories about "chaos," "insurgency," and "militant attacks" abound. (The mainstream media has apparently never met a terrorist.) Thugs who terrorize innocents, cut the heads off bound hostages, and wish to impose a mad theocracy upon people who want nothing more than to be left alone are given legitimacy by this language. Reuters claims that "one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter." Perhaps these media critics need to spend some time enjoying the kind of "freedom" the terrorists have imposed on hostages in Fallujah.
The latest episode in shameful commentary involves a snippet of video from the Battle of Fallujah. An American Marine squad entering a building from which they received fire notices that one of the wounded is feigning death. This enemy has a habit of booby-trapping dead and wounded. Just yesterday one of their buddies was killed when he turned over a body to search it and a primed hand grenade exploded. A Marine shouts a warning; they cannot see the left hand and arm of the enemy. It could be holding a grenade, a weapon ready to spray the Marines or an explosive device. The Marine does the smart thing to protect himself and his comrades: he fires a shot into the terrorist, making certain that he is dead and does not pose a threat. That action – regardless of how anti-American, anti-military commentators wish to spin it – is exactly the proper action for a soldier to take under those circumstances. It is illuminating to note than another wounded terrorist in the same video raised a hand in surrender. The Marines did not shoot him, only the faker.
Despite the howling from human rights organizations, anti-war groups, and sectors of the impotent but vocal "Arab Street" there is no crime here. Part of the training I regularly gave my troops included searching and clearing the enemy after an ambush or firefight. My iron-clad rule was that if you are unable to see both of the enemy’s hands, you instantly double-tap him. Better lose an enemy than risk a friendly soldier. The Marine actually waited too long. He may have hesitated because of the presence of the "embed" NBC reporter. That hesitation could well have cost American lives. If anything, our guys need to be faster on the trigger, not slower. This is a war, not a public relations exercise. All of us need to support fair treatment for this Marine. Under no circumstances ought he be disciplined, court-martialed, or reprimanded.
At all times, but especially at this time of year, Thanksgiving, it is necessary to recall that one of the reasons that we do not have to face those kinds of life and death decisions is because we as a nation are blessed by individuals of sufficient moral character that they are willing to assume the burden for us. They are willing to risk everything for our freedom and for the freedom of strangers. We owe them more than we can ever repay. When you bow your heads for a brief moment this day, think about these men and women and offer a word of thanks and appreciation for them and their sacrifice. They deserve that much respect, and more.